City’s FA Cup dream has again been ended by Wigan Athletic who pulled off a shock 2-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium.
The Blues were far from their best against the FA Cup holders and didn’t really spark to life until midway through the second half, by which time the Latics led 2-0.
City pulled one back through Samir Nasri, but couldn’t find a second goal having given themselves a mountain to climb, despite intense late pressure.
With the prospect of a second Wembley appearance of the season the carrot for the Blues, Manuel Pellegrini fielded a line-up that had six changes from last weekend’s Capital One Cup final starting XI.
Joleon Lescott, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Javi Garcia and Gael Clichy were all promoted from the bench while Micah Richards returned to duty for the first time in six weeks while Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho were among those rested for this tie.
The Blues had already dispatched Wigan 5-0 in the Capital One Cup back in September, but returned to the Etihad under new management in the shape of former City crowd idol Uwe Rosler.
Rarely, if ever, has the opposition manager been afforded such a genuinely warm welcome and the emotion of the moment wasn’t lost on Rosler who waved to all four corners of the Etihad as he was afforded a rapturous ovation prior to kick-off.
Of course, with so much at stake, that’s where the niceties ended – at least for 90 minutes. The draw for the semi-finals had taken place before a ball was even kicked, with another former City crowd favourite Shaun Wright-Phillips and his father Ian Wright pulling out Arsenal for the winners of this tie.
Chances were few and far between in the opening first 20 minutes with City failing to breach a well-disciplined Wigan defence until the 23rd minute when Yaya Toure played Navas in behind the back four only for his low cross to deflect into the grateful arms of keeper Scott Carson.
Then, from out of nothing, a Latics counter-attack saw Marc-Antoine Fortune skip past Martin Demichelis in the box and the City defender’s attempt at a tackle resulted in a penalty that Jordi Gomez tucked home comfortably to give the Championship side a surprise lead with 28 minutes on the clock.
It was proving a frustrating opening period for the Blues, clearly rattled an unable to penetrate a team who were both organised and determined to enjoy their run as FA Cup holders for as long as possible.
City offered no response in the first-half minutes that remained but worse was to follow just two minutes after the re-start when James Perch somehow managed to get on the end of low cross from the left with Gael Clichy seemingly unaware of the Wigan man’s presence behind him as the ball came in.
Suddenly, the prospect of the domestic treble seemed light years away and Pellegrini’s response was to bring on David Silva, Edin Dzeko and James Milner as the hosts desperately sought some inspiration to drag themselves back into the game.
It nearly came on 64 minutes when Dzeko’s header from an acute angle hit the inside of the post, but finally, minutes later the breakthrough came.
With City throwing everything at their opponents, Richards laid the ball to the edge of the area and Nasri’s crisp low drive found the bottom corner of the net to send the sell-out crowd wild.
Surely it was now game on? Could City, woken from their slumber, repeat the feat achieved against Watford in round four when a 2-0 deficit ended in 4-2 victory?
It seemed the Blues would draw level when Dzeko looked set to tap home from a yard out but Latics skipper Emmerson Boyce somehow cleared the ball from almost underneath his own crossbar with a tackle that would prove to be the game's defining moment. Had it gone in, City would have probably gone on and won this game, but it didn't.
In a frantic finish, Dzeko again went close with a header that shaved the post – but ultimately, the Latics resisted the onslaught. The truth was City had sparked into life too late and dreams of a domestic treble are now over, ironically, at the hands of a fomer Blues legend.